Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Sorry for the Deluge

I decided to transfer all of my recent Facebook posts onto Tumblr for record keeping. Sorry for the mess.

Menial Tasks

I was talking with a friend about doing menial tasks while others are socializing after an event, such as wrapping up sound cables or cleaning up trash. It can be a bit of a lonely experience, taking care of responsibilities while others chatter away happily.

My idea is to find a friend and say “Hey! I value our friendship and want to catch up with you right now, but I need to take cafe of this first. Come help me so that we can chat while we’re doing this.”

Working with a friend turns a chore into a bonding moment.

Mom's Worries

When you go to Chicago, I’m not concerned about how well you’ll do in school. You’re smart, so you’ll be fine. I’m not worried about the cold, or about how much work there is, or about your safety, or getting along with your classmates. What I’m worried about is that because you won’t be biking around as much, you’ll spend most of your time studying, and you’ll be stressed out so you might overeat, that you’ll get fat. You used to be chubby, so it’s easy to get fat again. Then you won’t get married, then you’ll get diabetes. Then you will die. So be healthy!

Giving Care

A few years ago, I went to a church retreat. There, I had dinner with a friend from another church. We weren’t that close, but he started sharing some very deep things with me. He felt alone, as if no one in his church was there to listen. He talked for a long time, and I just stayed with him, listening. It was clear to me that many of his friends felt uncomfortable with his pain, and so avoided him. He felt isolated because he was.

What I find is that many people want to be helpful and loving, but helping another person with emotional issues is hard. We can’t fix their hearts, so we are prone to neglect them. Their pain becomes our inconvenience.

If we remember that we can’t be anyone’s savior, that frees us to give what care we can offer. We are caregivers, but only God is the curegiver.


I don’t follow sports. When people ask “do you follow sports,” I used to say “no,” and the conversation would drop with an awkward silence. However, I’ve learned that people have an affinity for sports on a personal basis. There is always a reason people root for a team, whether because they grew up watching with their family or because they spent time in that team’s city. Sports is a proxy for a personal connection, so I focus the conversation on that instead. For example:

Friend: Do you follow hockey?
Me: Not really, but I enjoy talking about it. What team do you follow?
Friend: I’m a fan of the San Jose Sharks.
Me: Neat! How did you start following them?
Friend: My dad is a Sharks fan, so I would watch it with him growing up?
Me: What was that like?
Friend: It was fun!

Before long, we can direct the conversation to talking about her dad and sharing parent stories. I get to know more about the person and we can still talk about sports if she wants.


"You are ugly."

There is something uniquely jarring and sinister about this phrase. Hearing someone say this to us may cause us to believe it, or at least respond strongly to it.

If someone said to me “You are covered in blue feathers,” I would say that a conversation defining the terms “covered,” “blue,” and “feathers” was in order. On its face, that statement is a lie. Yet why is it that “you are ugly” has such weight?

Perhaps because it is a comprehensive expression of worthlessness. “Ugly” simplifies the complexities of another person’s physical experience and expression into a sharp, piercing word. No matter how tender your heart, no matter how competent your mind, if you are “ugly,” you are worthless.

Too often, we allow the perceptions of other people to affect our experience of reality. We need other people who will speak truth to us, who see our beauty and declare it. Otherwise, we will believe the ugliness we hear. The one thing more chilling to hear than “you are ugly” is “I am ugly.”

Body Image

People are often surprised to hear that I have a history of body image issues, but it’s true. I was never obese, but I was certainly chubby enough to get taunted as a kid. I fortunately never had a destructive relationship with food, but I carried the cloud of “fat loser” in my head.

Even though I’m much more fit now, that clouded thinking is hard to shake off, and sometimes it creeps back into my head. The word “fat” is still an emotionally loaded word for me. I thank God for a changed mindset, but I know that I have a responsibility to maintain a healthy relationship with my body.


"It is my wedding night. I am walking to my husband for the first time. I have waited for this night for so many years. All my life I have been told that I am not beautiful. When I was a girl, the ore children would mock me. As an adult, men would treat me with disdain and scorn. My very own father expressed dismay that I was not beautiful like my sister.

Ah, my sister. Always the pretty one. Always the lovely one. Rachel the Beautiful. She would make men turn their heads when she walked past, but they would never notice me.

I have been so lonely for so long. All I ever wanted was for someone to hold me, to embrace me, to call me beautiful. All I ever wanted was tok be loved.

I go to my husband. He is tired from the day’s celebrations. It is dark. He holds me close, his arms tender and strong. I close my eyes as he embraces me and whispers “Oh, Rachel.”

I bite back my tears. For at least one night, I can be called beautiful. Yet in the morning, I know that I will once again be who I have always been. I will once again be Leah the Unloved.”


At coffee shop with a friend, the barista had on a black shirt with “Audre&Gloria&Angela&bell.” in white letters. My friend asked about the meaning of the shirt, and she said “Audre Lorde, Gloria Steinem, Angela Davis, and bell hooks.” I said “Oh, the writers,” to which she responded, “Yes, the feminists.” As we left the counter, my friend confided to me “I’ve never heard of these people.”

Truth be told, I felt a twinge of smugness, as if my awareness of these famous writers makes me a better person. However, should that be the case? Simply because I have more knowledge in a specific area does not mean that I can consider myself superior to him. I didn’t choose the school where I learned about these writers. Although I played some role in my education, I didn’t choose my teachers or the curricula or reading assignments. Moreover, there are things that my friend knows that I don’t, such as the thematic elements of the music of Wilco or how to configure a network. I have knowledge in some areas but not all, just as he does.

The general point is that it’s silly to feel superior to others based on life experiences. When someone says “You’ve never been to another country?! What’s wrong with you!?,” the translation is “You’ve never had this specific life experience that many but not all people in this society have experienced and may well not have been available to you? You are diminished in my estimation for not having a life experience that I have had.” Perhaps the other person doesn’t have enough money to travel. Perhaps they were war refugees and couldn’t get passports. Perhaps they have a major phobia of planes.

In short, don’t be smug.


A few years ago I reconnected with a friend from high school. I was applying for a job at her company and asked for feedback on my resume. She said it looked good and sent me hers for reference. I was floored by her achievements. Ivy League school, internships with the federal government in foreign countries, started a nonprofit while in school. I felt small and mediocre in comparison, and wondered if I had wasted the past few years.

Several weeks later, we got lunch to catch up. I told her about my trips to Asia, my experience working with special needs students, and all the personal lessons from the past few years. She said “Wow, Joel, I’m really impressed. You’ve had a wonderful few years and I wish I had your experiences.” 

Every person has their own journey and their own lessons. I have wasted too much time wishing that my life would be different and comparing myself to others. It’s good and right to be inspired and challenged by others, but envy and jealousy are unhelpful. I am still learning how to appreciate the accomplishments of others without allowing myself to feel diminished.

A heart of peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones. - Proverbs 14:30


My mom is so cute. One time, I was eating dinner at home with my parents. My mom brought out some plums and said “Wah, you need to try these plums. They are very delicious. Really, they’re so sweet and tasty.” She was very insistent that the plums were good to eat.

She took a bite of a plum. Her eyes widened in surprise and she said emphatically “What?! It’s not good! I became liar!” Hilarious.

Besides the strange humor of this statement, it is interesting how her expectation and her experience diverged. She was expecting the plum to be delicious, but her experience was otherwise. Her original statement wasn’t actually a lie, but the aspect of expectation was implied. What she really said was “I expect that these plums are delicious,” when in actual fact they were not.

If ate a plum and said to her “Mom, you lied! These plums are not delicious,” my statement would not be credible, as there was no intent to mislead. At most, I could say “Mom, I disagree,” or “You are mistaken,” or “Your statement doesn’t match my experience.”


There was once a young man and woman expecting their first child. They were devoted to each other and filled with eager anticipation for their baby.

The pregnancy was difficult, and though their daughter was delivered safety, the wife lost her life in labor.

The man didn’t know how to manage his grief. Over time, he became distant and detached from his daughter, as she reminded him of his unresolved pain. His daughter deeply longed for her father’s love; her heart ached to be accepted.

The daughter got married and had a daughter of her own. From the passage of time, the man was able to resolve his grief, and showered his granddaughter with great affection. His daughter became resentful of this little girl that received the love that she never received.

One day, when the girl was 6, her mother called from across the room, “Come and give your mother a hug.” The daughter came up with a smile and hugged her mother. Then the mother gently let go and said “You only did that because I asked, didn’t you?” Stunned, the girl said nothing. “Go sit back down. I’m very disappointed in you,” said the mother. Tears in her eyes, the girl walked back, hurt and confused. Her mother was lashing out from her own resentment and bitterness.

What will help all of us understand our parents better is to understand their wounds and struggles. What memories still cause them pain? This will help us understand their thinking.

Brother and I

I appreciate how different I am from my younger brother, Dale Kim. For example, we have very different kinds of memory. I remember facts and ideas from many different sources. One time, I was relaying to him the history of Neapolitan pizza that I read in a magazine years ago, and asked if I was boring him. He said that talking with me is like talking to a Google search engine that runs automatically without any search queries. I took that as a compliment.

My brother, on the other hand, remembers events and people. He remembers the past in much greater detail than I do. He would ask me if I remember this friend or that incident, and I would always come up blank. He is able to remind me of childhood memories that are now lost to me.

We are able to learn from each other. I am his teacher; he is my historian. I am his encyclopedia; he is my archives. I help him understand the present; he helps me remember my past.

If we had a third sibling, I would bet that he or she would be a visionary, able to imagine and design the future.

Learning for Parents

This is a familiar story for many of you: a Korean boy falls in love with a non-Korean girl. The boy’s parents only speak Korean, no English. The boy tells his parents about the girl. The parents adamantly declare that he cannot marry this girl, as they have no way to communicate with her or her family. Girl tries hard to learn Korean to speak to his parents, yet they are firm in their disapproval of the relationship. After months of tension, painful conversations, and tears, the couple decides to break up because of the parents.

Now consider, this story. My friend Vini is Brazilian. His parents speak little English. He falls in love with Christina, an American with roots in Europe and Central Asia, who speaks no Portuguese (but has been learning).

His parents stayed at our apartment for a month before the wedding. One night, I come back home to find his parents busy looking over an English book. His father, Josias, tells me that they are busy studying English to speak with Christina’s family, her friends, and to their eventual grandchildren. Josias says “We want to be able to communicate to Christina’s family, because we love Christina.”

I know there are cultural differences between Korea and Brazil, and everyone has their own concerns and reasons. However, it really is touching to see parents put forth an effort to learn another language for their future daughter-in-law, instead of outright opposing the union because they cannot or will not put in the effort to learn another language.

I’m thankful that my parents are like Vini’s. We’ll see if that comes into play.


Walking around Rio, I see many people with earbuds in, listening to music. It’s a familiar sight in many cities, as people walk along to their self-constructed soundtrack. For many people, music is part of their lives, but only as a consumer, not a participant. Many people are self-conscious about singing, declaring that they are “not talented” or “don’t have an ear.” Yet why should we limit an avenue for joyful self-expression because of a certain standard?

Put simply, how many of those people walking around with music in their ears take time to sing out loud? So sometimes I like to sing as I walk. “Summertime” by Gershwin and “La Vie en Rose” are favorites.

Learning Language

I was talking with a friend about my concerns of marrying a girl who is not Korean and the challenges we would face in language and cultural barriers:

Friend: Joel, if you we’re to marry a Chinese-American girl, would you learn Chinese to speak to her parents?
Me: I would put in an honest effort to, yeah.
Friend: Right! Well, I’m sure that she would put the effort to learn Korean too. In fact, since she is starting from scratch, she may put in more effort than a Korean-American girl who knows just enough to get by. So the Chinese girl may actually come to understand the culture better than a Korean girl would. Also, since she is approaching the culture from outside it, she can help you see the whole picture of that culture more clearly.

Marrying a woman from a different cultural background would have its challenges, but there are certain positive aspects that I had not considered.

Also, no, there is no specific woman in mind. I’m just sharing some thoughts.


I remember a bad speech I heard. The speaker had some really terrific ideas, but his talk was so filled with filler words (um, like, so), that it was hard to follow. He ran out of time right as he got to the most crucial point and was cut off.

Having great content is not enough. You need to take care in delivery. No one will be able to follow your thoughts if you can’t speak them well.

This is true even for personal stories. Some may say “Well, this is my story, and I will tell it how I want” I’ve seen this particularly for Christian testimonies. However, even if your story is phenomenal, you need to remember that by telling it to others, you are expecting them to listen. The more you make it hard for your audience, the less they’ll care to listen.


I was explaining to a friend the importance of professional networking. I told her that she needed to be ready to present herself favorably to people. She said “Ugh, that feels so sleazy.”

I asked if she believed that she could bring value to people’s lives? Would having a connection with her ultimately be beneficial, if even only in a minuscule way, to other people? I said that she needs to have the confidence that she has something to offer to others. “They want to know you, even if they don’t know it yet, because knowing you would enrich their lives. You just need to help them see that.”

This isn’t about arrogance or overconfidence. Networking doesn’t mean performance or showmanship. However, you do need to demonstrate confidence that you are a person worth knowing.


When giving a speech, project confidence! Even if you feel nervous, try to demonstrate control and competence. Public speaking is hard for everyone, and people will give you grace, but it helps if you act like you know what you’re talking about.

Don’t start by saying “Sorry, I’m nervous.” Speakers say this in an unconscious effort to win sympathy from the audience. Yet the actual effect is to take the audience’s focus from the content of the speech to your nervousness. Consequently, every nervous tic or mix up of words will be noticed more clearly. Furthermore, by declaring your nervousness, you indicate a lack of preparation. Thus, your audience is less likely to find you confident and believable.

Prepare your speech, practice beforehand, and be ready to go at the real thing. If you lack confidence, just act like you are confident, and you’ll find nervousness subside.

First Impressions

Let’s look at first impressions in a professional context. People make first impressions based on appearance. Dress, posture, stance, speech, handshake, eye contact. All of these play a factor in how you are perceived. Race, ethnicity, and gender play a factor, but that is a discussion for another time.

Some may say “That’s so shallow! I don’t want people to make a judgment of me by first impressions of my appearance!”

It’s true that first impressions may be misleading, and it is worth keeping an open mind for how impressions can change. However, the truth is that judgements on appearance are part of daily life. When people make the above statement, how I interpret it is:

"I am so unique and fabulous that everyone should make an exception of their ordinary social perceptions for me, because I don’t care to play by their social games but still want to receive the benefits, and I will mask my complaint under the veneer of vague social critique."

How you want people to perceive you (sharp, carefree, rebellious, iconoclastic, competent) is partly under your control. Whatever you want to express, go for it! Br intentional in how you present yourself, because people will make assessments based on what they see.


How do you respond to interruption?

I used to feel apologetic in talking with another person, because I believed that I was wasting their time. I used to believe that I needed to keep the other person engaged, because I am so dull that their attention could easily drift elsewhere and I’d never get it back.

In conversations, I had a bad habit of trying to test the other person’s interest in me. While I am talking, if I was interrupted (such as by a friend saying hello or a truck passing by), I would wait after the interruption and not say anything. I wouldn’t resume what I was saying, but simply wait. If the person started talking about something else, I would think “Well, clearly this person isn’t really interested in what I have to say and was only pretending to listen to me this whole time out of politeness. I guess that’s normal. And to think that I thought that they were actually interested in what I had to say. Silly me.”

Yet when someone said “Please continue,” I would feel a lift of happiness. Someone was actually interested in what I had to say! As I started to develop a more truthful perspective of myself, such small gestures were great encouragements that my voice does matter.

Thank God, this lie that I was believing is broken off of me. Yet I know that many people still believe this about themselves. Although I am not responsible for their healing, I can help them be encouraged. Thus, for everyone that I meet, when our conversation gets interrupted, I always make a point of saying “Please continue” or “Tell me more” after the interruption has passed. This communicates to them that what they have to say matters because they are important.

Don't Believe Lies

My pastor once said that we believe lies that have us believe that our areas of strength are areas of weakness.

Once, I shared with Joy YangStephen J Yang, and Albert Alby Wang that a lie I was believing was that I am insignificant and unimportant. I shared that I believed that no one would be interested in what I have to say, because I am a dull and bland person.

Joy said “That’s so crazy to hear, Joel, because I feel the opposite when I talk to you. When I talk to you, I can tell that you are really listening to me, and I feel important and valued. You have the ability to help people believe that they are valued and honored.”

Once again, thank you to Joy, Stephen, Albert, and all who listen well.

Storytime with Dad

My father is a wonderful storyteller. He is able to weave together stories, jokes, and insights with such ease. Whenever guests would come over, he would regale them with simple, humble, and very funny stories about daily life. ON one of my visits to Korea, I was with my father’s two brothers (my father wasn’t there). Reminiscing about their youth together, they said “How much laughter there would have been in this house if Kiju had stayed instead of leaving for the US.”

I enjoy telling stories too, but I know that I don’t have my father’s gift with words. My approach to language is more technical, more exacting, excessively complicated. One problem with possessing a large vocabulary is a certain unwieldiness in conversation. My mind constantly searches for the right word to convey the right meaning. Sometimes, the flow of words comes to a grinding halt as I seek out the next word. Other times, two words jockey for position and end up emerging simultaneously, which is terribly confusing for the other person.

My dad does tend to tell the same stories repeatedly, which could become annoying. Yet I know his love and wisdom is in each of those stories. When my dad passes away, I think one of the things that I will miss most are his stories. When I consider the reality that one day, I won’t be able to hear him tell these stories to me, I treasure them even more.


As part of orientation, the law students had improv training from members of The Second City. We did several exercises on thinking on the spot, active listening, and speaking confidently. The coaches told us to “give yourself permission to play.”

It’s not often that such permission is given to us as adults. “Play” in its joyful, exuberant, silly fullness is something for children. Even playing sports or games has a serious edge, where “competition” and “winning” takes precedence. These things aren’t bad, but it is refreshing to play in a pure form. No props, no card decks, nothing but imagination and a willingness to look silly.

I’m glad that I got to work at Via Center with special needs students. We got to play all day, whether it be “Baby Shark” or singing “Wheels on the Bus.” I miss those times.

Casual Expletives

Once, my brother came to visit Berkeley with a few friends. I remember one specifically for his casual use of expletives. He wasn’t prolific in his use of such words, but he would pepper his speech at times with “that’s f***ing awesome” and such. 

I’m not sure why he thought it was appropriate to use such words. They added nothing to the conversation and struck me as careless. It was as if he was trying to talk older than his age, as if someone had told him that to be an adult is to use such language. Every time he threw out such a word, I imagined him as a little boy wearing his daddy’s clothes and saying “Look! I’m an adult!”

Truth is, when I hear people use such words so casually, I still get that same image. I don’t have a problem with the word itself. Every word has its place and its appropriate use. Yet to brandish profanity in such a cavalier way seems tactless. Profanity uses the shock of taboo to imbue language with emotional impact. As someone who cares about words, it is akin to using a scalpel like a butcher knife. Precision, economy, and elegance are lost to brute velocity.

Toxic Words

One time, I got on a bus and sat near the back. A young girl sitting in the very back was talking loudly on her cell phone. Evidently her friend had upset her, and she was telling the person on the phone all about her friend’s misdeeds and questionable character with foul and aggressive words. The bus was silent, but it was clear that everyone felt uncomfortable. I had half a mind to tell her to stop poisoning our ears with her toxic language, but I got to my stop and got out.

Next time something like that happens, I’m tempted to just start singing happy songs. I can’t change another’s behavior, but if someone is intent upon spewing negative garbage for all to hear, I can try to counterbalance it with some brightness and light. At the very least, it might catch them off guard.

"You are my sunshine…"


As part of orientation, the law students went to different volunteer service sites today. My group went to the Greater Chicago Food Depository to package food. We took apples out of large bins and placed them in smaller boxes to be shipped to different soup kitchens and food pantries.

During our task, I started thinking about how busy this upcoming week will be. There is an optional all-day event tomorrow that starts at 8:30 AM that I committed to attend. There are the different chores in the house to manage. There is the reading for class next week. The first day of class is next week! I started to feel myself move towards complaint and whining.

Then I remembered that we were at a food depository for people who are food insecure. The people who are receiving these apples have a much harder time than i do. At tomorrow’s event, I will have to choose which sack lunch to eat. They may have to choose between a meal for themselves or a meal for their children. I have to choose between relaxing this weekend and preparing for class. They might have to choose between buying medicine or buying food.

I started to be filled with thanksgiving. I am thankful that busy people are taking tomorrow to invest their time into my professional development. I am thankful that I have the opportunity to learn at such an amazing school. I am thankful that I have family and friends who support me. I am thankful that come this winter, I don’t have to worry about whether I can afford a warm meal or warm clothes.

Questions Again

Open-ended questions are crucial to keeping conversation going. Closed-ended questions stop them.

Before I moved to Chicago, someone asked me “Are you excited about law school?” I was a bit annoyed by the question, as there really is only one answer. I was tempted to say “No, I’m bored by the prospect.” Or perhaps “No, I’m morbidly terrified.”

What that person really meant was “I want to talk to you about your emotional state and anticipation about law school.” Instead of asking a closed-ended question that drops the conversation, a better question would have been “How are you feeling about law school?” This would have opened the conversation more to the nuances of my feelings toward this stage in my life, rather than a simplistic “excited/not excited” dichotomy.


Something I learned from peer counseling: When talking with someone facing a problem, many of us start by giving solutions. The problem is that we may give them solutions that they have already tried, and it can be frustrating to them. It is better to first ask “What have you tried?”

I met someone at a group last night. She asked me when I moved here, and I said “Last week, from Berkeley.” She said “Oh, you definitely need to get a parka! Something with lots of down to keep you warm, something that will go to your knees. You’ll freeze otherwise.”

I knew she was trying to be helpful, but I found it annoying. She didn’t ask me how prepared I am for the winter, or what my concerns are, or if I’ve experienced really cold winters before. She immediately launched into a suggestion of what I need to do. Never mind that I’ve already heard this suggestion countless times and have already bought some outerwear. I was tempted to say “Save your breath, I already know all that,” but I simply smiled and said “Thanks.”

She was simply trying to be helpful, but her desire to help wasn’t translating into actual helpfulness.

Rejection and Fear

In law school, professors call on students to answer questions about cases we read. Sometimes we get simple questions, like “What were the facts of the case?” Other times, the questions are more difficult, such as “What are some flaws you see with the judge’s logic? How would you rule differently?”

Some folks are understandably concerned about getting embarrassed in class. I remember some wise words from a friend about dating: “Many guys are so terrified about getting rejected that they never ask a girl out. Ironically, the best thing that could happen to them is to get rejected. Once they get rejected, they realize ‘Hey, this wasn’t so bad.’ Then they can move on and not worry about it.”

In a strange way, I’m looking forward to looking stupid in class. Then I can get that done with and move on. As an aside, I’m not planning to come to class unprepared or to plan to say something stupid. As another wise person said, “That is foolishness.”


Closed-ended questions reflect our own assumptions about another person’s experiences. Open-ended questions allow space for the other to share openly.

There was a single woman whose younger sister was getting married. There was a great deal of hubbub and activity, and as the maid of honor, the woman was very involved. Two weeks before the wedding, the woman’s friend said “Are you feeling excited?" The woman smiled and said "Yeah, I’m excited." The friend nodded and moved on.

Later, another friend came to the woman and asked “Hey, how are you feeling about the wedding?” The woman replied “Mm, good.” The friend said “Tell me what you’re feeling.” The woman sighed deeply and said “Honestly, I’m mixed-up. I love my sister and want the best for her, but I don’t like the guy that she is marrying. I don’t trust him and I don’t like how he talks to her. Part of me wants to convince my sister to call the whole thing off. Then part of me wonders if this is just jealousy that she’s getting married before me. Then part of me feels guilty for even feeling that way, but I’m still not sure if she should marry this guy. I mean, it’s her choice, but I don’t want to see her make a horrible decision. I don’t know. It’s funny. I’ve been so involved in planning for the wedding that I haven’t have time to dwell on how I actually feel about it.”

The first friend had assumed that the wedding would be a happy occasion for the woman, but that is not always the case. We would do well to not have our assumptions color our questions.


On my first day of 9th grade Social Science, my teacher sat at her desk, smiled, and said “Before we start class, i want to make something clear. I’m prejudiced. Now, ask me about that.”

We weren’t sure what to say. Some of my classmates looked visibly uncomfortable. No teacher had ever said anything like that. We asked a few feeble questions, but she gave very short answers, still smiling. Thensomeone asked “What do you mean?”

She said “That is what I was waiting for. I am not prejudiced in skin color, gender, religion, or anything of that nature. I’m prejudiced in the respect and work ethic you bring to class. If a student who always turns in assignments on time and is generally respectful asks for an extension on a paper, I’m more likely to grant that extension than a student that never turns in an assignment on time and is disrespectful in class. Thus, I’m prejudiced in favor of respectful students over not respectful ones.”

In a society that can be hypersensitive about words like “prejudice” or “discrimination,” it was refreshing to remember that those words exist beyond their emotional charges. We all discriminate in some way. For example, if someone were to come to the door of my house, I would discriminate between members of my family (whom I would let in without hesitation) and strangers (whom I would ask about their business and may not let in). Certainly, there are systematic types of discrimination that run counter to the kind of society we wish to live in, and we generally approve of overriding individual choice for the sake of the greater good. But to make a blanket statement that “no one should ever discriminate” isn’t what we really mean, and we need to be careful with the words we use.


One last thought regarding creativity:

Something I’ve observed is how pain can be important to the creative process. I have heard it said that many artists find profound insight in deep pain, sadness, or despair. Some truly astonishing works of art have come from the pain of the artist (consider Vincent van Gogh or Henri Nouwen).

Art can be a safe outlet for painful emotions. Yet I wonder if it is possible to become stuck in that pain. Imagine that an unknown poet loses her daughter in a car accident. Soon after, she writes devastatingly beautiful poetry out of her loss. She becomes recognize and esteemed. People the world over are moved to tears by her poems. She becomes a Poet. She begins to identify herself with her work. She finds meaning for her life in her poetry. She tries to write more, but her new work lacks the same intensity. The only way to find that spark is to return to the pain of the loss of her daughter. Again and again, she returns to that grief. It begins to haunt her. The grief is a well of inspiration, but she finds herself drawn deeper into it, drowning. For the sake of her sanity, she needs to get out, but she can’t bear to lose her sense of purpose as a Poet. This is the only life that she knows now, and can’t bear to part from it. The grief consumes her.

I imagine that some artists may start to identify so strongly with a particular event or emotion that they can’t escape from it, even for their own sake. Then again, I could be wrong. I haven’t dived into the creative process as intensely as artists that I know. Anyone have any thoughts on this?

Conversations through Generations

A story about what it’s like to live with immigrant parents:

My Korean isn’t great. My parents say that it’s above average, which seems more telling about the average Korean-Americans Korean language ability than any competence on my part. One of the issues is the disparity between my Korean and my English is so vast. As my cousin put it, “Joel, when you speak English, you sound very articulate and sophisticated. When you speak Korean, you sound like a 12 year old.”

My parents’ grasp of English is solid. My dad was an actuary at Blue Cross; my mom is a pharmacist at a local hospital. They interact frequently with English-speaking customers and co-workers. Still, Korean is their native language, and I do make an effort to speak to them in Korean.

There were times when I would feel ashamed about my meager grasp on Korean. I felt that somehow, I had failed them as a son in not becoming fluent. I would think “If I only studied harder, I could have learned this better.” I equated my weak grasp of language with a failing in my moral character and diligence.

Fortunately, I no longer feel this way, but I know some still do. It can be difficult enough to talk with one’s parents. Imagine if talking with them becomes a subconscious rebuke, a reminder of “not trying hard enough, not working enough, not good enough.” It’s insidious. The gap between parents and children widen, and before long there is no longer any communication.

I didn’t let that happen. My parents didn’t let that happen. Don’t let that happen.


This past Friday, I was eating dinner with two friends. One of them started talking about animal rights and animal testing of cosmetics. The other friend and I took very different approaches to the conversation. I was trying to listen to my friend and understand the logic and heart behind his arguments. The other friend was trying to point out logical inconsistencies and counter with his own points. I have training as a lay counselor; my friend has training in debate.

The conversation reminded me that different people have different ways to approach conversation. I am glad to have friends who can teach me to think through arguments and challenge breakdowns in logic. I am by nature more geared toward empathy and understanding, but there is a space for confrontation.

Not Over Yet

My classes are between 65 and 100 minutes long each. In the final minutes of each class, people would start packing up their books and things as the professor is still talking. Often, the professor will need to raise his or her voice to be heard in those final minutes.

In high school, I had a teacher who condemned this practice. “It’s rude to everyone for you to start packing your things. The class isn’t over until right at the time it ends. I will agree to try to cover the material and not go over time. You need to agree to not disengage and start packing things away until class is officially over.” When people would start packing their things before time, she would say “Stop rattling! We’re not done.”

I still remember that lesson now, and do my best to remain engaged during the entire class time. I also wonder if any professor would call a student out for that. “So to recap, as we discussed in Pierson v. Post today Mr. Kim please stop rattling, you’re making a nuisance. Class isn’t over yet.”


A few years after I graduated, I met a first year studying at UC Berkeley. I asked him how he liked school so far. He said “It’s ok, I guess. It’s not really that big a deal.”

My initial inclination was to say “Do you realize just how fortunate you are? You are part of an extremely tiny minority of people in the world that get to attend one of the greatest public universities on the earth. There are millions of people that come to this country and work themselves to the bone so that their children will get an opportunity like this. I understand that your response is meant to convey some vague sense of modesty, but it comes across as incredibly arrogant. Berkeley is ‘ok, I guess?’ Show some gratitude.”

In actual fact, all I said was “Oh, ok.”

Stupid Question

I imagine this exchange happening in class:

Professor: Anyone have any questions? Yes, you.

Student: This is kind of a stupid question, but…

Professor: Then I’m not going to answer it.

Student: Uh…

Professor: If you preface it by saying it’s a stupid question, I don’t see why I should answer it. It would waste our time and demonstrate lack of good judgment on your part. What you really mean is that you have a question but feel embarrassed to ask because you think it makes you a look like a stupid person. Never mistake a willingness to ask questions, even rudimentary ones, for stupidity. An inquisitive nature and the boldness to ask are the elements of intelligence. Now, ask your question, and don’t be afraid.

Swearing: Part 2

I posted a comment recently about profanity. Several people have come up to me and apologized for swearing in my presence. They expressed that they didn’t mean to offend.

I appreciate these apologies but I do want to state for the record that I’m not actually offended by profanity. My original comment was in response to using profanity as a crutch for lazy language. Some folks are prone to throw out curse words like sharp elbows, using shock to cover a lack of substance.

Thinking about the original incident (my brother’s college friend), it seemed that he was swearing as a way to “grow up” his language. It came across as his trying to sound more adult by dirtying up his words. I wanted to tell him “Cussing like that doesn’t make you an adult.”

One friend said that profanity in his speech is a sign that he feels comfortable and that he only uses it when he’s among friends. I can understand that. I would prefer a friend with a dirty mouth and an honest heart than someone with pristine speech and evil intent.

And now, all this talk about profanity brings to mind this scene. Enjoy! (Strong language, but you probably figured that).

Bad Writer

I have a paper due Monday morning. I finished my first draft just tonight. I was thinking about why it took so long and why I kept putting it off. I realized that part of it is that I feel incompetent writing this paper. I have never done legal writing before, and it has been some time since I wrote an essay like this. Since I don’t like feeling incompetent, I kept on putting it off until later.

However, I realized that one reason I came to law school was to be challenged and to develop skills to be a lawyer. Before I learn something, I must recognize that I don’t know it. Incompetence is not necessarily a bad thing, as it reveals an opportunity to grow.

I’m sure there will be many experiences of my incompetence to come. Although it feels uncomfortable, it’s also a good reminder of how much I still have yet to learn.

Going back

People ask me if I intend on going back to California after I graduate from law school. If I had enough time, this is what I would say:

My mom is from a family of 5 siblings, 4 girls and one boy. She has always been very close to her sisters. They shared stories, school supplies, and sleeping areas.

Before my mom got married to my dad, he told her that he was planning on going to the US to study, and that marrying him might mean leaving Korea for a while. He wanted to pursue new opportunities in a new country. It was hard for my mom to think about leaving her family, but she married my dad and they moved to Atlanta.

While my dad was studying at Georgia State, I was born. Soon, my parents relocated to LA. They settled into their new life. They bought a car, then another. They bought a house. They started setting in roots.

My family was able to visit Korea several times, but only every few years. My mom missed her sisters’ weddings. She missed the birth of her sisters’ children. Imagine what that is like. She had always been close to her sisters.

Family is an important part of my life. That is something I learned from both of my parents. I want to be near them, to share the life that we have been given. To be close.


At the beginning of the school year, there was a “Day of Professionalism” event. During one of the talks, the woman next to me was surreptitiously texting on her phone. I thought “Seriously? We’re here to learn about professionalism and you’re texting during the presentation? How unprofessional.”

Then I thought “Wait a minute. I don’t know what’s going on with her life. I don’t even know her name. Maybe she has something really important that she needs to communicate with someone, like coordinating to pick up her sister at the airport before the plane takes off or checking in on a friend who is sick. What right do I have to look down on her? Besides, what good does it do me to fill my mind with disdain for her? That’s not helpful.”

Maybe it’s unlikely that those situations were actually happening. Maybe it’s likely that she was just casually chatting with a friend and ignoring the presentation. Even so, it wasn’t my business, so I set that aside and paid attention to the talk.


Yesterday, I went to a church potluck. About 30 people showed up; 90% of them were white. We had vegetable soup, kale salad, chicken casserole, broccoli salad, rolls, and a lovely dessert of pudding topped with whipped cream and chopped apples.

It was such a contrast from church potlucks growing up back home, where we had bulgogi (marinated beef), japchae (stir fried sweet potato noodles with vegetables), kimchi, rice, and Korean pears for dessert.

Even still, the food last night was delicious, and the people warm and hospitable.


Years ago, someone told me that I’m boring. Here’s how I would respond now.

A: “Joel, you’re so boring.”

Me: “You really should get that fixed.”

A: “Huh?”

Me: “I know that I’m not a boring person. I have so many stories and observations and experiences to share. I have the legacy of my parents and my family, generations of personal history. I have so much to say, and I know my voice matters. The fact that you think I’m boring has less to do with me and more to do with your deficient imagination, lack of manners, and disregard for other people. You really should get that fixed. But don’t worry, I’ll still treat you with respect even if you don’t do the same for me.”


I remember once going to dinner with my friend (who is also Asian-American). We were walking on the sidewalk as a car turned a corner. One of the windows rolled down and a white guy yelled out “Go back where you came from!” in a decidedly unfriendly tone. The car drove away.

I’m fortunate that this was one of the few times that I experienced such blatant racial hostility. I grew up in a very diverse city with a large Asian population; I was accustomed to relating to folks from different backgrounds. I would tell people how I bow to my parents on New Years Day and they would tell me their traditions, instead of saying “That’s weird” or “Oh, is that like Asian ancestor worship, like in books?”

I was puzzled by the guy’s comment. Of course, I was a bit angry, and brief thoughts of harm flashed through my mind. But I wondered why he would think it appropriate to say what he did. Yelling an insulting epithet from the window of a passing car doesn’t take much courage. In fact, it’s the epitome of cowardice; one feels puffed up for fighting back against “them” without actually doing anything.

Ultimately, I decided to feel pity for this stranger that saw fit to speak words of hatred instead of life. Filling my mind with hateful thoughts toward him would only be toxic, so I let it go and went to enjoy dinner.

It was sushi. It was delicious.


Today I attended a memorial service for Abbie Harper, the second year law student who passed away last week. She was 23. I never met her, but I got the feeling that I should be there. it was held in a chapel on campus, near the Divinity School. Many of her classmates were there, along with several professors. Professor Strahilevitz spoke on how he remembered Abbie from Property class, recalling her beaming smile and bright personality. Some of her classmates shared memories and stories, how they made plans for working in DC next summer and all the adventures they would have together. Her parents spoke a few words as well.

I was glad that I went. Life in school can be a whirlwind of classes and cold calls and outlines and exams and job searches. It can be easy to lose perspective. Attending Abbie’s memorial reminded me to be thankful for life, friends, and community. Her father shared that Abbie wanted everyone “to not be afraid to live.” To fear not, and live.

Cooking Together

I always enjoyed watching my dad and mom cook together. It’s rare to see older Korean men cook, but my dad is quite accomplished in the “frugal gourmet” way, as he would say. Watching them cook as a team was a great joy.

I’m not currently in a relationship (in fact, I’ve never had a girlfriend), but I would like my future wife to enjoy cooking. This is not so she can make delicious meals for me to eat (as some may say)! In fact, it’s not a matter of her being a good cook at all (although that’s a plus). I simply would want her to enjoy cooking, since I enjoy cooking and would want to cook with her.

Cooking is the enjoyment of life! Cooking is patience, allowing things to take their time. Cooking is toughness, braving hot pans and cuts and disappointments that turn to lets-try-agains. Cooking is care, giving of time and skill and creativity for others. Cooking with another person is trust, a letting go of a need to have control and have everything prepared just so for the greater joy of working with someone else. 

One day, I’d like to marry someone who enjoys cooking. But for now, I’ll be cooking for one, and that’s ok.